Pentecost – Sunday, June 2, 2019

June 10, 2019  
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John 14: 15-17

“Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”
“Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?”
“Have you welcomed Jesus into your heart?”

Someone at some point may have asked you a question something like these…

My questions are kind-of sort-of like the concern the disciples had after Jesus left them. They were wondering if they would still be able to love Jesus the way they did when he was with them, when their relationship with him WAS personal. They were wondering if the next generation of believers would be able to love Jesus without having a personal relationship with him, as they had had…

In the 21st century we cannot claim to having ever had a personal—as in, in person—relationship with Jesus. But, in the 21st century, there are still followers of Jesus who believe the primary relationship they have with Jesus must be personal—as in, in their own hearts. They believe their relationship with Jesus is based on THEIR acceptance of Jesus in their own lives and hearts.

Not so, say we Lutherans. Our relationships with Jesus are solely based on what Jesus has done and is doing for us. Our relationship with Jesus is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, wherein he saved us and he saved the world. This relationship is not personal, in the sense of it being something that Jesus and I have in my heart where I cling to his love, keeping my focus inward on him (and me). This love is communal. This love is public. This love is “second-person plural” (“John 14:12-24 commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 749).

According to the gospel of John Jesus said “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14: 15).
Jesus did not say “if you accept me into your heart I will be there loving you forever.” Jesus did not say “I love you because you love me.” Jesus said “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

Lest we get caught up in the question of which commandments Jesus is speaking of—he made it quite clear when he was asked what the greatest commandment of all time was. Remember? He said “You shall love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And 2nd, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22).

One of my family members was explaining to another family member the difference between Our Savior’s (this person has visited here) and his home church. He said “They (us) focus on serving their community. We (his church) focus on taking care of ourselves.”

Let me be clear. The whole reason we have this day we call Pentecost is because Jesus made a promise to his followers that he would give us another “Advocate” that would be with us. That Advocate (better translated “Paraclete”) would be and IS in this world taking care of us. We do not have to worry about ourselves.
A Paraclete is “one who comforts;” a Paraclete is “one who helps;” a Paraclete is “the one who makes appeals on one’s behalf” (TNIB, vol. 9, p. 747). The Paraclete, aka the Holy Spirit, has been with us, the Paraclete is with us, the Paraclete will be with us taking care of us forever. This allows our focus to be outward. This allows our focus to be where Jesus placed his focus. This allows our focus to be on loving others as Jesus loves us.

Biblical scholar Gail O’Day wrote

Jesus lived out God’s love for him by keeping God’s commandments, by making God known to the world, by offering God’s promise of salvation to the world, by loving fully, even to the extent of laying down his own life… the love of God and Jesus was a public love, first revealed to the world in the incarnation and repeatedly revealed in Jesus’ words and works… The love of God is present whenever those who love Jesus keep his commandments, when they continued to live out the love that Jesus showed them… (TNIB, vol. 9, pp. 749-750).

We can do this!
We can love others as we have been and are loved.

We can love others because we have the Spirit of God empowering us.
We can love others because the Paraclete comforts us.
We can love others because the Advocate Jesus promised to give helps us.

The Spirit has come.
The Spirit is here so that we can be there—out—in the world—loving others as we have been and are loved.

Amen.

Louise’s Retirement – Sunday, May 26, 2019

May 26, 2019  
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Psalm 150

Hallelujah! Praise God in [this] holy temple!
Praise God with trumpet!
Praise God with tambourine and dance!
Praise God with strings and pipe!
Praise God with loud clanging cymbals!
Let everything that has breath
Praise God!
Hallelujah!
(Adapted from Psalm 150)

Louise Temte, thank you for praising God through your music! Thank you for maximizing the gifts God has given you! Thank you for leading us as we sing praises to our God!

Louise Temte, you are a beloved child of God. Well done, good and faithful servant!

J. Clinton McCann wrote “To praise God is to live, and to live is to praise God” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4 p. 1279). In this context, it only makes sense that the book of Psalms ends with psalms of praise and, it only makes sense that the last Psalm of the praise (or hallelujah!) psalms commands us to praise God in God’s holy temple with music.

Let everything that has breath Praise God!

Let every living thing praise God!

Can you imagine a chorus of all living things singing praise to God? Can you imagine the cacophony of sound?

Google.com defines cacophony as a “harsh, discordant sound.” As applied to this verse, I’m thinking it ought to be defined as a discordant miracle—
All living things singing praise to God won’t sound in harmony but will reflect the harmony of all creation as we give thanks to our Creator.

Remember when, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples as they hid in a locked room? Remember, he “breathed on them and said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit”” (John 20:19-22).
Remember, when God created humankind, God formed them from the ground and breathed life into them, and they became a living being? (Genesis 2:7).

So now, let everything that has breath praise God!

God has breathed life into us. We have breath and life, and so we are called to praise God in this holy temple.

Walter Brueggemann wrote that “Psalm 150 ‘expresses a lyrical self-abandonment, an utter yielding of self, without vested interest, desire, or hidden agenda’” (as quoted in TNIB volume 4, p. 1280). Psalm 150 points outward, toward God, with words and sounds of praise.

Praise God!
Praise God in this sanctuary!
Praise God at that holy place
where heaven and earth touch one another!
(Krause as quoted in TNIB, volume 4, p. 1279).
Praise God according to God’s greatness!
(Psalm 150 adapted)

Louise, your time with us here in this holy temple has been a decade of praise to our God. We are so grateful!

I have told Louise repeatedly that partnering with her here in our worship services has been a true blessing because she has always known serving a church as its organist is a vocation. Serving a church as its organist is ministry. She has been a minister of music with and for us, in service to God. Louise has been and is a minister of praise.

A second quote from J. Clinton McMann:

Precisely because music is powerful and can transcend barriers without difficulty, it is an appropriate medium for conveying the message about the sovereignty of God, whose claim transcends all the barriers that separate peoples from one another and humans from other species” (TNIB, volume   4, p. 1280).

Without musical tone, Psalm 150 is a musical masterpiece, precisely because it gives voice to our calling as people of God who love God. This Psalm gives voice to our gratitude. This Psalm gives voice to our faith. This Psalm gives voice to our praise as we say

Hallelujah! Praise God!

“To praise God is to live, and to live is to praise God.”

Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 19, 2019

May 19, 2019  
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John 13:31-35

As followers of Christ, we live in the between times.
We are between “then” and “when”—which isn’t an easy place to be.

“Then” was the time back then, when Jesus was alive, when Jesus walked this good earth. He taught people and he touched people. He loved his followers and he served those in need.

“When” is yet to come. In the “when” time, Jesus will return to earth, bringing with him a perfect glory. “When” will be the time salvation is known in all its fullness. “When” will be the end of the between.

When John wrote his gospel his readers were living at the beginning of the between.
Early Christians were beginning to experience life without Jesus. Jesus was no longer physically present; Jesus’ followers had to learn how to live without him. To guide them, John reminded them that Jesus said

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

In order to know how to live, the early Christian community needed to remember how Jesus lived. In order to know how to live, the early Christian community needed to remember how Jesus loved. Which is why John wrote his gospel. To remind them how Jesus lived and how Jesus loved.

Jesus began his ministry calling a small group of people to a new way of living. Their life with Jesus was a life of teaching and learning. Their life with Jesus included being taught how to share the good news Jesus shared with them. They learned how to heal. They learned how to serve.

Jesus, practicing what he preached, served those who followed him. As his group of “disciples” grew larger and larger, his teaching and his service increased.

The evening he spoke to his disciples, telling them to “love one another,” Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, a task most leaders of households would have left for servants.

And so, to live as Jesus lived, to love as Jesus loved—was first a call to community and second a call to humility. Jesus called his expanding group of followers to love one another, and to be humble servants.

There’s more. There is a third piece. To live as Jesus lived, we are called to live in community. To live as Jesus lived, we are called to humility…
To live as Jesus lived, we are called to sacrifice.

Jesus died for his disciples and he died for the world. Jesus died for us as he died for the world. Jesus died because of his love for his disciples. Jesus died because of his love for us. Jesus died because of his love for the world. If we are to love one another as he loved us—our love has to be sacrificial.

This between time—living between “then” and “when”—it is not easy.
Gathering together, humbling ourselves and loving sacrificially, is not easy.

As twenty-first century disciples—we must discipline ourselves.

Coming to worship, gathering with our faith community is a disciplined act… there are a lot of other things that demand our time. Look around. Think about who you know that isn’t here because they are sick or because they are traveling or because they have sports or because they have to work.

Humbling ourselves is a disciplined act… Humility demands we prioritize the needs of others, which runs counter to much of society’s values. Society is about me or we, not you. Humility asks us to prioritize you, to prioritize others.

Sacrificial living is a disciplined act… an act that takes us a step beyond humility. Sacrifice is not just about prioritizing others. Sacrifice us about giving up parts of ourselves. Sacrifice is not impossible but it is never easy.

We know it isn’t easy because we know how often we fail.

Life between “then” and “when” is not easy.

So how do we carry on, knowing the difficulties?

First, we admit our failures. As much as we want to live in Christian community and we want to be humble and we want to be sacrificial—sometimes we fail. Maybe we fail often! Knowing our tendency to fail we need to admit our failures and remember we are forgiven. Then we need to forgive ourselves and try again. And again. And again.

Second, we carry on when we remind ourselves that we are loved. Jesus does love us. This we know.

Carrying the love of Jesus in our hearts empowers us to do as he commands: to love one another. Because our love is really Jesus’ love overflowing. Knowing Jesus’ love flows through us—makes gathering in community and humility and sacrifice easier. Recognizing the love of Jesus flows through us means living like Jesus and loving like Jesus is not about us. Loving one another as Jesus loves us is about Jesus. We are making way for Jesus to live in all that we say and all that we do and all that we are.

Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 12, 2019

May 12, 2019  
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Acts 9:36-43

In its original Greek language, the only time the female form of the word disciple is used in the entire New Testament is here, in our reading from Acts, in regards to the disciple Dorcas (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1 p. 864).

“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36).

Her death left her friends and co-workers, who were widows, weeping (Acts 9:39). As it says at historyswomen.com/womenoffaith/Dorcas

…the widows Dorcas had laid her [body] out and prepared an eloquent eulogy on the life and character of Dorcas by showing some of the many coats and garments which she made for them. Here were aged widows whose hands were too feeble to hold the needle and too poor to pay others for their work. They showed the warm garments Dorcas had made them to protect them from the cold winds which often swept in from the Mediterranean. And here were younger widows with little children who had been clothed by Dorcas. How could they ever find another friend like her? (“Dorcas The Queen of the Needle”).

The website is taking some poetic license; clearly the details they offer are not recorded in the book of Acts, but their point is poignant and powerful.
Dorcas, aka Tabitha, was loved. Dorcas was respected. Her ministry was powerful.
Her work was important enough that, at the time of her death, one of the leaders of the church, the apostle Peter was summoned. Two men were sent to him with a request: “Please come to us without delay” (Acts 9:38). And Peter, nine miles away (TIDB, vol. 1 p. 864) got up and went. And he knelt and he prayed.
And Peter said “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive (Acts 9:40-41).

We do not know anything else about Dorcas. But we do know about generation after generation of women in the Church who have modeled their work after her.

Here’s an interesting fact. When I googled “Dorcas Society” to find information, our Facebook page and website came up. Other church’s Dorcas Society information came up as well. But what does it tell us about the work of women in the Church generation after generation, when a small paragraph about our Dorcas Society is one of the first sources that come up on a global search?

Today we embrace the power and the ministry of the disciple Dorcas, aka Tabitha. And we embrace generation after generation of women around the world who have served the Church in the name of Dorcas. Whether they be members of a Dorcas Society, such as we have, or members of other Church women’s organizations. Their pictures aren’t usually hung on walls. Churches aren’t usually named after them. But their work has been and is important. Decade after decade, century after century, anonymous women have dedicated time and talent to follow the instructions of Jesus when Jesus said “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Our Dorcas Society began January 11, 1921 “when a group of young women met at the home of Miss Florence Young to organize for Christian fellowship and service, the principle objectives of this group being general charity and mission work, both local and Synodical” (“Seventy Five Years for Christ” a history book or Our Savior’s published in 1936). At their first meeting, they collected $1.61. It was noted that “the one cent in the collection no doubt meaning that someone had been tardy, as the minutes state that there would be a ‘one cent fine for tardiness and a five cent fine for absence except for sickness’” (same source).

Which made me think we ought to put a penny jar in the narthex on Sunday mornings for everyone who comes late to church!

In our congregation’s 1936 history book, written on the occasion of our 75th anniversary, it says

Wherever a church spire points heavenward, there will be found a group of women zealously working in the interest of the group. Many years ago, when La Crosse was but a hamlet, when sand and sandburs blew about the streets, and the drone of saw mills filled the air, a small group of women gathered one afternoon at the home of Miss Dahl for the purpose of        organizing a Ladies Aid Society. This meeting occurred in March 1878, before Pastor Frich located in La Crosse.” (Seventy Five Years for Christ).

In 1886 the Ladies Aid formed a “Dime Society”. Dues were: 10 cents! They met at the homes of members or in the church. They studied scripture and they prayed and they led fundraisers. Sometime after 1888 the Dime Society “bought the lot on which our present church stands, the corner of 6th and Division Streets, for $1800” (Seventy Five Years for Christ).

The apostle Peter was no fool when he raised the disciple Dorcas from the dead. Peter knew how important the work Dorcas did was to her congregation. He could see, he could hear, how much she was loved.
Just so, we embrace the work of our women’s societies here at Our Savior’s.
Our 1936 history book’s chapter on our Dorcas Society ends with these words:

There is joy in being of service in the kingdom of God. Christian activity must be directed by God, and we as Dorcas members feel that there has been a willingness on the part of the individual members and blessed team work on the part of our group. The Lord has richly blessed our efforts and  given us success… May we therefore in the name of Jesus, Our Savior, continue to ‘work while it is day, for the night cometh when no [one] shall work.’”

May we all continue to work while it is day in the name of Jesus, Our Savior.
Amen.

Third Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 5, 2019

May 5, 2019  
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John 21:1-19

As I told our young people, we have —the Church has a Church Calendar that we structure our worship services around.  There are seasons, much like nature’s four seasons, only the Church has more.

Who cares? Me.  Maybe the people on Altar Guild who have to know the season each Sunday in order to have the right colored paraments up.  Maybe our musicians as they plan for services.  Maybe Deb and Gary Wold because they hang our banners.  I’m not sure anybody else cares a whole lot, unless they are seminary trained and/or retired pastors.

Christian people are more inclined to care about the big Sundays:  Christmas, Easter.  The rest? Professional church people call it adiaphora.
Wikipedia defines adiaphora two waysIn the context of Stoicism “adiaphora” is usually translated as “indifferents.”  In Christianity, “adiaphora” are known as matters not regarded as essential to faith.

Yet our worship takes its shape around the seasons.
For example:  we are now in the season of Easter.  Socially, Easter is over—way over.  It ended the evening of the day it began.
I remember visiting a friend the week after Easter, years ago.  She lived in southern Illinois.  As I drove down a street in Springfield, I was stopped in traffic behind a garbage truck.  It was one of the old fashioned trucks that garbage collectors filled by manually picking up our full cans and tipping the trash out of the cans into the back of the truck.  Then the driver would pull a lever and a compactor would slide down, squishing the trash into the belly of the truck.

As I sat in my car behind the garbage truck, I could see the trash that squished out the sides of the compactor.  The trash was unusually pretty.  It was colorful.  There was a lot of shiny green plastic grass in it.  Easter basket grass.  Clearly, Easter was over.

Last week I checked out the post-Easter going out of business sale at Shopko.  There was a lot of Easter candy for sale.  And grass.  And baskets.  Because Easter is over.

And yet, according to our Church calendar, today is the Third Sunday of Easter, or more commonly known, Easter 3.
Our gospel reading tells John’s story of Jesus’ third post-resurrection appearance to his disciples.

The disciples were gathered.  They didn’t seem to know what to do.  So Peter announced “I’m going fishing” (John 21:3).  Then a few other disciples decided to join him.

Scholars believe this story was an editorial addition to John’s gospel written long after the rest of the story.  That makes this story similar to a P.S. at the end of a letter written to someone. P.S. I love you. P.S. Don’t forget to tell grandma thank you for the birthday present. P.S. Post Script. I forgot to say this so let me say it now.

This reading is the gospel of John’s P.S.
P.S. Gone fishing.

The disciples had followed Jesus for years.  Then Jesus was arrested.  Then Peter denied he ever followed Jesus.  Then Jesus was hung on a cross and he died.  Then Jesus was buried.
Then Peter went to the tomb Jesus was buried in and the body of Jesus was gone.  Then the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, telling her to tell the others she had seen him.  Then Jesus appeared to the disciples as they sat in a locked room, afraid.  Then Jesus breathed on them:  Receive the Holy Spirit.  Then, a week later, Jesus appeared again while the disciples were locked in a closed room.

Then some of the disciples went fishing.
And they caught nothing.

Peter and the other disciples caught nothing.  They hauled in empty net after empty net, all night.
At daybreak, they saw a man on shore who told them to cast their net to the right side of the boat.  Did the man mean the “right” side of the boat as in not on the left? Or did he mean the correct side? Either way, they threw the net in and could not haul it in, it was so full of fish.  Which is when Peter realized the man on shore was Jesus.  Which is when Peter jumped in the lake.

Peter was so happy to see Jesus Peter jumped in the lake to swim to him.

Most of the time we as followers of Jesus live in the adiaphora.  We live in the days of “indifferents.” These days aren’t “essential to faith.”  And yet.

And yet—there stands Jesus.  In the middle of our indifference.  Wanting to be more than a P.S.  Do we see him?

Jesus is there.  We decide where.  We decide whether he stands at the center of our lives or if we are going to leave him standing in the margins.
Do we make room for him? Do we value his presence?

Our gospel story tells us our lives will be empty without Jesus.  I don’t believe that is true.  But I do believe his presence fills our lives in a unique way.  His presence fills us with a unique, incredible saving love.
When Jesus is at the center of our lives he brings to us a love that overflows.  There is enough love for us to have; there is enough for us to share with family; there is enough love for us to share with the world.  Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 28, 2019

April 28, 2019  
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John 20:19-31

According to the gospel of John, on the night of his arrest, after Jesus had shared the last supper with his disciples Jesus had a lot to say to them. His words, his farewell, included a promise:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).

In today’s gospel reading, describing the evening of the day of his resurrection, spoken only four days after his farewell, Jesus told the disciples

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

Then Jesus breathed on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

Jesus breathed on them.

Remember what it is like to breathe on the face of a little baby? Imagine you are holding a baby in your hands with the baby’s face looking toward yours. And then you slowly blow on the baby’s face… The baby might be startled. The baby might smile or even laugh.

Now imagine the risen Christ standing right in front of you, close to you. You are both face to face. Then Jesus breathes in and slowly blows that air onto your face.
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

For the disciples it was a promise kept.

“Peace be with you.”
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

I am captivated by the wording of this story. John wrote “Then Jesus breathed on them and said to them Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Is the word “them” collective? Did he just breathe into the room while standing in front of them as a group? Or did he move between them, breathing on each one of them individually? I have glossed over this part of the story when I have read it and preached about it in the past. Now I’m wondering. And I’m imagining. I am imagining the intimacy of Jesus walking from person to person, breathing in and slowly blowing air on the faces.

“Peace be with you.”
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Imagining Jesus breathing on each person reminded me of a hymn folks sang years ago, for Lutherans it was in the Service Book and Hymnal. We are going to sing it today—in just a few minutes.

Breathe on me Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew…

 Breathe on me, Jesus. Fill me with life.

It is written in the 2nd chapter of Genesis:

…then the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life; and Adam became a living being” (verse 7).

Breathe on me breath of God. Fill me with life.

We need this new life, just as the disciples needed the new life Jesus breathed on them.

The disciples were being empowered to continue the mission of Jesus. As Biblical scholar Gail O’ Day wrote “Those who believe in Jesus receive new life as children of God and the Holy Spirit is the breath that sustains that new life” (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 9 p. 846). She also wrote “The church’s identity as a people is shaped by the gifts it receives from the risen Jesus” (TNIB vol. 9 p. 848).
And she wrote “The faith community’s mission is… to bear unceasing witness to the love of God in Jesus” (TNIB vol. 9 p. 848).

 

Jesus breathed his breath of love onto his disciples, calling them to continue to share his word of love, his word of peace with the world they lived in.
This morning Jesus is not here with us, physically, to breathe his breath of love on us.

Instead we receive his spirit of love and peace through the waters of baptism. Our baptismal water cleanses us from our sin. When we were baptized we were sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked with the cross of Christ forever, empowered to continue the mission of Jesus. Our baptismal covenant includes a commitment to work for justice and peace. Our baptismal commitment included a commitment to care for others and to care for the world.
It takes energy to do those things. It takes time. And so we pray as we sing:

Breath on me breath of God.
Fill me with life anew.
That I might love what thou dost love,
and do what thou wouldst do.

Amen.

Easter Sunday – Sunday, April 21, 2019

April 21, 2019  
Filed under Sermons, Uncategorized

Luke 24:1-11

If they had anointed his body on the night he died, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women would have been arrested. The Sabbath had begun—they would have been violating religious law that said they were to honor the Sabbath to keep it holy.

And so Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others waited. They waited until the first day of the week, at dawn. At dawn they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared, planning to anoint Jesus’ body.

A huge stone had been rolled in front of the tomb; the Romans wanted to be sure no one would steal Jesus. Roman soldiers stood guard.

This group of women loved Jesus. They were all part of a collection of people who followed Jesus throughout his ministry. Luke called them disciples; they were not the twelve disciples but part of a larger group of followers.
They loved Jesus.
Which is why they went to his tomb to minister to his body. They went to anoint him.

When they arrived they found the stone rolled away. The stone that blocked the opening of the tomb. The stone placed there by the Roman guard.

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others did not appear to have been startled or surprised by the fact that the stone had been rolled away. Maybe they weren’t aware the stone had been placed there. Maybe they thought it was a convenient coincidence, since they needed to get into the tomb. Whatever it was they thought, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others went into the tomb.
Where they found no body. Nobody was there.
In first century Jerusalem, it was not common for bodies to be taken from their graves. Jesus’ body had disappeared! Anything might have happened to him.
Luke wrote that the women were “perplexed” (Luke 24:4).

They were “completely baffled” (bing.com definition). They were “puzzled” (bing.com).

I don’t know about you, but if I went to a grave to visit a loved one’s body and the grave was open and the body was gone, I would be a whole lot more than perplexed! “Perplexed” doesn’t begin to describe what my reaction would be.

Then, topping off the women’s perplexity, two men in “dazzling clothes” (Luke 24:4) suddenly appeared beside them. Which terrified the women. Rightly so.

The men asked “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Why?
Why?
Because he was not living, he was dead!
That’s not what the women said to the men in dazzling clothes. That’s what I would have said. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women were perplexed and terrified and “bowed their faces to the ground” (Luke 24:5).
“He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5).
“Remember how he told you… on the third day he would rise again” (Luke 24:6).

They remembered.
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women—they remembered!

He was alive!
Jesus was alive!

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women left the tomb and they told the eleven disciples and they told the other disciples: he is alive!

Jesus is alive!

At first the women were not believed.
Then Peter went to the tomb to see for himself and he was amazed.
Later that day Jesus appeared to other followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-15). And so it went. Jesus was alive and they all, men and women, loved him.

Jesus is alive and we love him.

We gather because we believe. Jesus is alive! And we love him!
Jesus lived and Jesus lives because God so loved the world that God gave Jesus to the world. The death of Jesus was for the world. The resurrection of Jesus was for the world! The sacrifice and victory of Jesus Christ was and is for the world! And we love him.

Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Amen.

Maundy Thursday – Thursday, April 18, 2019

April 18, 2019  
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John 13:1-17

It “is not about the water” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 724).
It is not about the feet.

As I just read, after washing the feet of other disciples, Jesus was about to wash his disciple Peter’s feet. Peter was resistant, saying “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8). If we are like Peter in the way we see and hear what Jesus said and did, Jesus’ response to Peter sounds like something my mom might have said to me when I told her “no” to something she wanted to do to me: “Oh yes I will. If you want (fill in the blank), you are going to let me do this.”

Actually, Jesus said “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” John 13:8).
Which Peter mistook for “you better let me wash you” when really Jesus was saying “you need to open yourself to the relationship I want to have with you on my terms, not on yours.”

For Jesus, the foot washing was not about the water and it was not about the feet. For Jesus, washing his disciples’ feet was an act of love, an intimate touching and cleansing intended to show (on a micro level) the disciples’ how much Jesus loved them, and (on a macro level) how much God loved and loves the world.

God’s love is something we talk about all the time. I preach about God’s love for us and for the world all the time. God’s love for us is central to everything we believe about God and about our need for God.

How often do we think about God’s love for us in an intimate way?
Do we think about Jesus touching us, touching our hearts, touching our lives just as he touched his disciples’ feet?

The act of touching is much discussed these days.
People are asking what level of touch is appropriate between people. Who has a right to touch who? And where. And when. And how.

The discussion is important. No one should touch any other person in any way unless the person about to be touched has given the person about to do the touching permission to do so. That is a simple matter of respect that every person ought to be able to understand.

Which complicates this image we have of Jesus. Jesus was the teacher. Jesus was the rabbi. Jesus was the leader of the group, the person with all the power. And he was insisting on washing, on touching his disciples’ feet.
Which is why it is important to say “It’s not about the water. It’s not about the feet.” And add to that “It’s not about the touching, at least not LITERALLY.” Think of the story as a revelation.

Our gospel story reveals that God wants our relationship with God to be intimate. Our gospel story reveals that God wants our relationship with God to touch our hearts. Our gospel story reveals that God wants our relationship with God to touch our lives. Our gospel story reveals that God wants us to feel God’s love. Our gospel story reveals that God wants no distance between God and us.

God loves us.
With all humility, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Humbling himself, Jesus died on a cross. We remember his love. We receive his love. Thanks be to God for the love God so generously and intimately provides.

Amen.

Palm Sunday – Sunday, April 14, 2019

April 14, 2019  
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Luke 19:28-40

One might think of Jesus as a Marginal King.
He wasn’t a king of nobles.
He did not have a royal court surrounding him. No jester. No throne.
There was no war horse for him to ride.
There were no army battalions marching in behind him.
No one showered his entrance into Jerusalem with flowers.

Jesus rode in on a borrowed donkey. Two of his disciples threw their cloaks on the colt, garments that were probably stained and dirty from the dust on the road. Other people spread their garments on the path the donkey walked, garments that were probably equally as grimy as those the disciples wore.

The multitude of people praising God as Jesus road by were his disciples, not just the twelve but many others who followed his teaching. They weren’t royalty either. According to the gospel of Luke his disciples were people who fished, they were tax collectors, Samaritans, the blind or crippled, they were women and children…
His parade into Jerusalem was not fancy; this was not a parade with royalty in chariots waving.

As one scholar wrote “Jesus was the king of the oppressed and suffering. He shared their hardships, relieved their suffering, accepted them when others deemed them unacceptable, gave them hope, and embodied God’s love for them. Now they came to march with him into the holy city” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 9, p. 370).

They shouted: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven” (Luke 19:38).

Their words were echoes of Psalm 118:26, where it is written: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Luke changed the words to specify that Jesus was king, and he added that Jesus would bring peace. But otherwise, Luke echoed the psalmist.

Consider the fact that the disciples believed, actually they believed and they hoped Jesus brought peace to the world.
Their hope for peace shows us that Christ’s kingdom was not and is not like a typical kingdom on earth. Christ’s conquering army was an army of angelic hosts, and they were singing. Jesus Christ healed wounds, he did not inflict them. Jesus freed people from their sin, he did not capture and enslave them. Jesus brought people in from the margins, he did not marginalize them. Jesus was a Marginal King.

Recall the words the angels sang when Jesus was born. According to Luke, they sang: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favors.” (Luke 2:14).

Is this the king we worship and praise?

The King of peace? The king of misfits and sinners? The king of the poor?

There are those Christians who long for Jesus to be the King of prosperity, the king who preached that life with God promises wealth and comfort. Do not believe them.
Reading the gospels, we know this is not who Jesus was and is not who Jesus ever could have been.

Mary, his mother, knew the kind of king her son would be when she sang her song of praise: His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1: 50-53).
This is our royal Christ, the Marginal King.

He calls us and others out of the margins, asking us to follow him. He heals wounds. He warms hearts. He calls his followers to live lives of peace.

And he asks us to follow him as we journey through our lives, loving others as he has loved us.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Amen.

Fifth Wednesday of Lent – Wednesday, April 10, 2019

April 10, 2019  
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Psalm 126

There’s always something to argue about.
I don’t know about you but, I have had arguments about some ridiculous things.
When I have those kind of arguments, they seem (in the moment) extremely important. Later on I look back on the argument and think “Really? Did we really argue about that?”

As I was studying in preparation for this sermon I happened upon a scholarly argument about how Psalm 126 was translated. If you look at the translation we have in our bulletin, you will see that the first three verses are written in past tense, describing what God has done for the people of Zion. Verses four through six in the psalm are translated in both present tense and future tense. “Restore our fortunes O Lord” is a present tense plea. The writer, speaking on behalf of a people, says “we need this now.” Then the writer imagines what shall happen when their fortunes have been restored: those who weep will “come home with shouts of joy” (The New Interpreter’s Bible volume 4, p. 1194).

Not all scholars agree that psalm 126 should be translated in tenses that aren’t consistent with one another. Some scholars translate the psalm all in past tense, some translate the psalm all in future tense (TNIB vol. 4 pp. 1194-1195).

Their arguments are not ridiculous because the tense of the translation changes the entire meaning of the psalm. If the psalm is all in past tense it is speaking to what God has done, making it a psalm of thanksgiving. If the psalm is translated all in future tense it is a plea for help. Translating the psalm in all three makes it a little bit of each: it is a words of thanks, a word of longing, and a word of trust all at the same time (TNIB vol. 4 pp. 1194).

The scholar re-capping the argument believed the best translation of the psalm was the one that combined tenses, allowing the psalm to have relevance for every generation, regardless of what circumstance people found themselves in (TNIB vol. 4, p. 1195).

As faithful people, we have a rich history of relationship with God that goes back generation after generation. The bible tells the stories of centuries. Reading scripture, we can see what God has done. And we give thanks.

As faithful people, we look at our relationship with God in our own lifetimes. We look back and give thanks for what God has done in our lives. We look at what God is doing in our lives and we rejoice or we wonder, or we hope for a future that is better than what the present is, praying.

As faithful people, we look at our relationship with God and we have hopes, hopes rooted in our confidence that God has been present– that God is present, and that God will always be present in our lives and in the world. We hope for our own futures and we hope for the future of next generations. We hope for the future of the world in all its totality—beyond just that of humankind.

The season of Lent is just such a journey from past to present to future.
We look at the needs of the world that brought God to believe God needed to give God’s only Son, that all who believe might perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). We look at the ministry of Jesus, at his words and deeds. We look at his death grieving his suffering while knowing his death would bring about his resurrection. And we give thanks.

In this moment, we see our own sinfulness, knowing how desperately we need the promise of forgiveness. We know our need even as we trust that grace is ours because God has said God loves us in spite of what we do.

Looking to tomorrow, or to the days after tomorrow, we believe in God’s promises. God promises to be with us, always. God promises to love us, always. God promises eternal life lived with God, forever.

Remembering, believing, and trusting—even in our worst moments we can hope that our fortunes will be restored.

We know, those who “sow in tears” WILL reap “with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:5).

We believe, those “who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:6).

We remember.
We know.
We trust and we hope.

Because God “has done great things for us” we rejoice (Psalm 126:3).

Amen.

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